Google gives the public relations industry a second chance

The public relations industry has missed out on the opportunity created by Google during the last decade to help audiences find relevant content on the web.

Google created a business opportunity to develop web content around topics that an audience is searching for and to build relationships between web sites that publish content on related topics.

But despite a slew of free tools and data made available by Google, the public relations industry let the opportunity pass by and the search engine optimisation (SEO) industry, reckoned to be worth £500 million in the UK according to econsultancy, has emerged.

As Echerman’s Andrew Smith said in an interview in Brand Anarchy most public relations practitioners are still calling up journalists and asking “did you receive my press release?”

Second chance: Google+ and Author Rank
But Google has given the public relations industry a second chance. Changes to the search algorithm in the last 18 months or so, combined with Google+ and Author Rank, have created an opportunity ideally suited to the skills of the public relations industry.

The first key change to the Google search algorithm called Panda was rolled out in February 2011. It flushed out low quality content farms from search results. These were typically characterised by poorly written and often syndicated content.

Next was a social network called Google+. Launched in 2011 this is Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter. But significantly it has been integrated directly into Google’s search algorithm.

Personalised search results
If you use Google+ and are logged into a browser when you make a search request, the default results that Google believes are most relevant. Content that previously may not have ranked highly now may well do so thanks to your Google+ relationships.

Google+ was followed in April this year by a second change to the Google algorithm called Penguin. This removed sites that had built their authority by building low quality spam links.

Google adds Author Rank
In the last few months we’ve seen the roll-out of a new mechanism that is already making a significant contribution to search results called Author Rank. This uses Google+ to assign a value to the credibility of an individual author on a topic.

Bauer Media’s James Carson gave an excellent seven-minute presentation on Author Rank at BrightonSEO in April.

I implemented Author Rank on my personal blog two weeks ago. This is a site that I rebuilt in September but is already hitting the first page of Google for searches on my name. Content from the blog appears in search results alongside my gravatar.

Each time I publish content on the web attributed to my Google+ account Google gets an indication of my expertise. Content and links continue to remain important for search but increasingly social signals and the credibility of an author will become a significant factor in search result.

That sounds a lot like public relations. Echerman’s Andrew Smith who has built a business around public relations, SEO and search agrees.

“I personally think that both Google+ and Author Rank are a big deal – however, I’ve made some big predictions about stuff in the past and been proved wrong – or rather I’ve underestimated the inertia in the public relations industry,” says Smith.

Opportunity for brands and individuals
The challenge for brands is that it ties content to individuals rather than organisations. But that’s also a great opportunity to help brands build personalities.

As a public relations practitioner you need to jump onto Google+ if you aren’t already and wherever possible ensure that content that you create on the web has an author tag.

Organisations need to implement Google+ sharing and implement author tags on their sites, and start building relationship with their audience online via Google+.

“Google wants to deliver relevant search results based on human trust and authority – using links to determine this trust and authority in the past was only a proxy for the real thing – incorporating social signals and assigning trust and authority of content based on people rather than a link is the way forward,” says Smith.

“It should play to traditional PR skills of quality content creation and quality relationship building – things the SEO sector hasn’t really had to think about in the past. Rather than devising clever ways to game the system, you need to find ways to build and communicate trust and authority – doesn’t that sound like what PR should always have been about?” adds Smith.

Google has given the public relations industry a second chance after it missed out on SEO. Whether it will grasp it is another thing entirely of course.

If you’ve read this far thank you! You might appreciate this related blog post: Why you need to use Google+: Author Rank and social search.

Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoyed this blog post you may like to receive future posts as they are published, via email. Please sign-up here.

Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. Google+ is a dead end.

    If you want to get anywhere you better figure out Facebook and Twiiter.

    How much did Google pay for this article? Paid commentary is the only industry that thrives on G+.

    • The link between Google+ and search is irrefutable. Go search for my name and see what you turn up.

      Come back in three to five years and let’s have this conversation again.

      Unfortunately I’m not paid by Google.

  2. In 1999, I led a joint Commission between the CIPR and PRCA to look at how important the internet was to Public Relations.

    At the time, the establishment essentially gave the Institute a choice between more parties and award ceremonies and development for the future of the industry. Champaign won out.

    XPRL, the PR mark-up language was virtually strangled by the professional PR associations.

    In 2009, not one officer of the CIPR had read the CIPR book ‘Online Public Relations’. Most still haven’t.

    At present, I doubt if there is more than £50,000 being spent by in-house/agency/universities on PR research into the future of the industry.

    If the CIPR was to look at the elements of the undergraduate courses, it would surprise me if they included any SEO education, web scraping technologies, tablet or mobile web communication. But I don’t expect it has occurred to the CIPR to ask.

    Most of PR is dreaming its way into oblivion.

    When the Guardian follows Newsweek and stops printing newspapers, it will all be too late. No SEO and the PR stories will not even see the light of Google.

  3. I thought I’d already left a comment. Must have been thinking of a tweet – let’s face it, I usually am.

    Google+ is dead, according to a fellow commenter.

    I’ve been banging on about what a waste of time Google+ is, and what a ghost town it’s become for almost a year. I wrote about deleting my Google+ account in December 2011 (here’s the line – I’m not pushing anyone to read it, but it’s there for reference… http://seanfleming.com/why-i-deleted-my-google-account/)

    It’s a waste of time, a dead end, etc etc from certain perspectives.

    But one should never underestimate the desire within Google to have us all marching to the beat of its drum.

    Like it or not – and I don’t, I have criticised Author Rank as heralding the beginning of the end of the democratisation of publishing via the internet – Google wants to push you into making a choice.

    You want to appear in the top search results? Then do as we say.

    Don’t want to do as we say? Then say goodbye to the front page of Google.

    A Google+ profile will feed into your overall search-ability. Or find-ability, I guess.

    No one’s saying that’s intrinsically good. Just the way it is, and the way things are going.

    • I’ve been tinkering with Google+ for six weeks or so. The link with search is absolute. Content shared on Google+ is indexed very quickly by the Google search engine. We’re only just beginning to see its potential is my view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *